I won’t say that we are picky eaters. We just don’t want to use Neither money Nor time on food we don’t think is good
And – opposite a lot of other food lovers – we don’t keep quiet about our opinions. Not even when it comes to Portuguese cuisine which seems to make the whole world go crazy these days.
So it wasn’t a big surprise when we got a comment from a reader of this blog who wanted to know what we like, where we eat, recommendations etc.
We’re currently working on blog post about our picks – but as we’re surrounded by restaurants – and a lot of good ones – it will take us some days.
But until then we feel we must share this story.
Yesterday we had an experience out of the ordinary here in Lisbon. We had sardines
Sardines!!!! Whats so special about that... you may ask.
They are every where! We had tons of them for the St. Antonio Festival weeks ago.! … you may ask again.
They are! And that’s exactly the issue.
We love sardines, so when we saw how Lisbon went mad about this delicacy we asked Catarina when she would serve them.
We don’t know, Thomas. Carlos says that they are not good enough to eat yet.
Catarina and Carlos own the restaurant we locals just call Catarinas. Without doubt the best place to eat in Graca. We eat there at least once a week.
Catarina runs the place during the day while Carlos opens it in the mornings before he leaves for work and for what we believe is his responsibility in the restaurant: Get fresh fish!
We asked Catarina about the Sardines for weeks – still without any results.
So one morning when Thomas had his morning coffee in the restaurant he asked Carlos.
Carlos is born and raised on the Costa Caparica and has spend most of his life on the beach, fishing together with the other fishing men.
The Sardines are not ready yet. People have to wait until they are good enough. They will gather in the Costa Caparica bay and eat and get fat. That’s when we will catch them. Then you will get the best Sardines you can dream of – we call them The Gold of Caparica.
Carlos is not a man of many words. Completely opposite Catarina. But when I opened the Sardine subject I got more words from him than I have got the previous year.
When that will happen, I don’t know. Have patience, Thomas.
One more thing. Don’t eat other sardines…
As buddhists practicing patience is a discipline we’re very familiar with. Still we had big problems waiting for the Sardines – no matter where you go these days you can smell them from the BBQ’s
Last week we almost gave up – we accepted the fact that we wouldn’t have Sardines this season. Even Catarina seemed to have accepted that… I have become buddhist after all this patience, she joked.
Yesterday we got the phone call
It’s Catarina – they are here!
I recognized her smiling voice and looked out of the windows and saw her in the door to the restaurant 50 meter from us. Her whole body was smiling.
Lunch for 2 at 1 pm – we will be there.
I didn’t even know if we had other plans – had we had, they were now cancelled.
1 minute later I called back: Can we bring a friend?
We needed to share this experience. And a witness if the experience lived up to our expectations – they had grown enormous in the 6-7 weeks we have been waiting.
We were not the only ones who had been waiting.
When we arrived we recognized all the regulars from the Graca Village sitting quietly and respectfully in front of their plates waiting expectantly for the Gold. They had obviously tried this before which was very comforting.
Catarina is always smiling – and always taking care of us guests from the moment we enter the door and are greeted with a kiss and a How are you – how is your day.
Yesterday she was different – she was on top of the world.
All the sardines are sold out – she said while greeting one more from the village and introduced us to another villager we haven’t met yet.
After on beer and a glass the plate arrived
All of us went quiet – not from respect – but because of the sight of the fish in front of us.
What a wonderful plate!
It had nothing to do with their seize (they were neither big nor small). It was something else – the ‘fat’ belly, the light natural fresh colors you could see behind the crispy BBQ skin, the tiny shining eyes, the small flakes of sea salt… the silence in the whole room.
When we opened the fish and saw the juicy slightly pink meat and the white bone that almost loosened itself, ready to get picked by the fork, I send an appreciative thought to Dona Fernanda in the kitchen. It takes a goddess to treat these wonders to perfection and make miracles.
And that was exactly what we were witnessing.
When Catarina saw our reaction she arrived at our table with a plate of the fresh – slightly salted – sardines and explained all about how a sardine should look when they are ready to eat and why.
I woke up this morning I realized one thing. Catarinas is the best Portuguese restaurant we have eaten in
It’s easy to eat expensive – and its very easy to eat cheap here in Lisbon.
Our biggest problem with the local kitchen is that it’s very difficult to find restaurants that serves the quality we find at the local markets where we shop ourselves.
And except for a very few places we haven’t met people being as passionate about the food they serve as Catarina. About the ingredients & the preparation and her guests.
Catarina never compromise – when their butcher has the eco lamb chops they are on the menu. And the sardine season starts when the fish are ready. And if she get a fresh fis during the day she knows who appreciate them.
They have opinions about what to use for preparing the food, they have opinion about where to buy things and they don’t mind sharing. BUT THEY DON’T PREACH.
We love food & love to cook, and we know when we eat food out of the ordinary.
We did yesterday.
And this morning I realized that it’s the 4th time that have happened in our years in Lisbon.
The whole octopus blew my mind. So did the lamb chops when we tasted them the first time. And we still get shivers when we talk about our surprised when Catarina served us our favorit seafood Percebes – they were in a different league compared to all the other times we have had them.
And now the Sardines!
Catarina, Carlos, Ana & Dona Fernanda… what a privilege to be able to eat you fabulous food.
You give us exactly what we appreciate – and its not fancy food by pretentious chefs with ambitions bigger than their skills. Its about making food with love and compassion – making food with respect for the ingredients – making food where each bite stand out and surprise.
And thats what you make 🙂
You are true ambassadeurs of the Portuguese kitchen.